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Life and death in Aleppo, Syria.
September 7, 2012 3:24 PM   Subscribe

Life and death in Aleppo. GlobalPost correspondent Tracey Shelton was filming a feature on the daily life of Syrian opposition fighters when a mundane chore for the men turned into a bloodbath... (Warning: Graphic.)

Shelton camped with the opposition’s Noor Den al-Zenke battalion in their makeshift home on a narrow street in Aleppo. Jokes were being told one morning and laughter was in the air as the men cleaned their post. When an alert came that a Syrian Army tank had been spotted nearby the men dropped their brooms and reached for their weapons.

In an instant, an explosion tore through their ranks. Shelton shot as it happened. Of the men at the post, only one survived the blast. [via abcnews]
posted by yeoz (63 comments total) 16 users marked this as a favorite

 
Holy crap, that tank blast shot is horrific, and amazing.
posted by rollbiz at 3:34 PM on September 7, 2012 [1 favorite]


This will be an iconic photo.
posted by HuronBob at 3:49 PM on September 7, 2012 [2 favorites]


Wow.
posted by cacofonie at 3:52 PM on September 7, 2012


That is incredible. Gizmodo has a GIF of the three shots - pre, during, and after - that shell hit. Just crazy.
posted by gemmy at 3:59 PM on September 7, 2012


I don't think I know what determines an iconic photo, but, there's a lot of buzz on twitter about this photo set.
posted by yeoz at 4:01 PM on September 7, 2012


In pictures: Syrians flee conflict
posted by homunculus at 4:04 PM on September 7, 2012


How Syria's Dictator Creates An Alternate Reality On Facebook
posted by homunculus at 4:06 PM on September 7, 2012


I don't know how this will end, but I do believe that years from now we will look back on the Syrian conflict with disgust and dismay that we didn't do more to help. It's tragic.
posted by SweetTeaAndABiscuit at 4:08 PM on September 7, 2012 [3 favorites]


My god.
posted by brundlefly at 4:10 PM on September 7, 2012


I wish I hadn't looked.
Just to save anyone else something they can't unsee,
the first photo is people, standing around.
The second shot is the same people, standing around, backlit by a hellish, localized fire presence.
The third shot contains only one person, with the people in the background gone, replaced
in darkess, and a spray of red droplets caught in midair on the right.
posted by the Real Dan at 4:14 PM on September 7, 2012 [1 favorite]


the Real Dan: "a spray of red droplets caught in midair on the right."

I assumed those were cinders. Would blood be that visible?
posted by brundlefly at 4:23 PM on September 7, 2012 [2 favorites]


It's downright heartbreaking that the Russians are so intransigent on this issue. Can't we get Putin to buy in by offering some killer photo ops?
posted by Slothrup at 4:48 PM on September 7, 2012


Worries intensify over Syrian chemical weapons
posted by homunculus at 4:59 PM on September 7, 2012


"a spray of red droplets caught in midair on the right."

I would go for cinders also rather than vapourised people. Note the chair doesn't move.
posted by Damienmce at 5:22 PM on September 7, 2012


Counter-Point to the cinders; The man on the left in the third "action" picture seems to be coming apart. Powerful pictures to be sure; yes, even iconic.
posted by Jaymzifer at 5:38 PM on September 7, 2012


Islam's ancient divide . . .
posted by bukvich at 6:03 PM on September 7, 2012


red hot shrapnel would be my guess
posted by stbalbach at 6:05 PM on September 7, 2012


I'm not as convinced as some here (and in the comments accompanying the photo set) seem to be that this display of the horrors of war proves that the government side is evil and the insurgents are the ood guys.
posted by fredludd at 6:06 PM on September 7, 2012 [3 favorites]


oops! Good guys
posted by fredludd at 6:07 PM on September 7, 2012


I don't know how this will end, but I do believe that years from now we will look back on the Syrian conflict with disgust and dismay that we didn't do more to help

So you could see American bombs blowing up people instead?
posted by empath at 6:09 PM on September 7, 2012 [5 favorites]


Who are the insurgents? There are over 30 independent groups. Be sure to click the map.
posted by stbalbach at 6:12 PM on September 7, 2012


I don't know how this will end, but I do believe that years from now we will look back on the Syrian conflict with disgust and dismay that we didn't do more to help. It's tragic.

I believe the opposite: we'll wish we had done less.
The new American policy, in its broad outlines, has been discussed publicly. In testimony before the Senate Foreign Relations Committee in January, Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice said that there is “a new strategic alignment in the Middle East,” separating “reformers” and “extremists”; she pointed to the Sunni states as centers of moderation, and said that Iran, Syria, and Hezbollah were “on the other side of that divide.” (Syria’s Sunni majority is dominated by the Alawi sect.) Iran and Syria, she said, “have made their choice and their choice is to destabilize.”

Some of the core tactics of the redirection are not public, however. The clandestine operations have been kept secret, in some cases, by leaving the execution or the funding to the Saudis, or by finding other ways to work around the normal congressional appropriations process, current and former officials close to the Administration said.

A senior member of the House Appropriations Committee told me that he had heard about the new strategy, but felt that he and his colleagues had not been adequately briefed. “We haven’t got any of this,” he said. “We ask for anything going on, and they say there’s nothing. And when we ask specific questions they say, ‘We’re going to get back to you.’ It’s so frustrating.”
That was in 2007. Fast forward to this month, under an entirely different administration:
The Syrian rebels would be immeasurably weaker today without al-Qaeda in their ranks. By and large, Free Syrian Army (FSA) battalions are tired, divided, chaotic, and ineffective. Feeling abandoned by the West, rebel forces are increasingly demoralized as they square off with the Assad regime’s superior weaponry and professional army. Al-Qaeda fighters, however, may help improve morale. The influx of jihadis brings discipline, religious fervor, battle experience from Iraq, funding from Sunni sympathizers in the Gulf, and most importantly, deadly results. In short, the FSA needs al-Qaeda now.
...
Thus far, Washington seems reluctant to weigh heavily into this issue. In May 2012, U.S. Defense Secretary Leon Panetta publicly accepted al-Qaeda's presence in Syria (Guardian). And in July, the State Department's counterterrorism chief, Daniel Benjamin, rather incredulously suggested that the United States will simply ask the FSA to reject al-Qaeda. The unspoken political calculation among policymakers is to get rid of Assad first—weakening Iran's position in the region—and then deal with al-Qaeda later.

But the planning to minimize al-Qaeda's likely hold over Syrian tribes and fighters must begin now as the Obama administration ramps up its support to rebel groups (Reuters). Of course, these preparations should also include efforts to locate and control Assad's chemical weapons. The months ahead will not be easy.
Once you make the decision to destabilize a government in a country like Syria, the consequences are impossible to imagine. You'd think we would learn after Iraq, Iran, and Afghanistan, but it appears that our goal in the Middle East is to see how many stable governments we can eviscerate and still claim that we have no idea why the entire region wants to see us drown in the blood we have spilled there.

These are the wages of the sins of secret, unaccountable organizations directing our foreign policy with virtually zero oversight from Congress, virtually zero coverage from the press, and apparently, with full support of the Executive regardless of what party sits in the Oval Office. Every time the bill comes due we double down on more clandestine invasions, more violence, more terror, and more inevitably doomed policies that center around maintaining our power in the region instead of promoting reconciliation and peace.
posted by deanklear at 6:25 PM on September 7, 2012 [12 favorites]


It was exactly the opposite, in fact. Iran cautiously helped us in Afghanistan, we're staunchly opposed to the Taliban and hated al Qaeda. What they didn't do was play nice with Saudi Arabia and Israel. To be honest, we'd have done better to drop our support of oppressive Sunni regimes and backed the more democratic and modern Shia backed ones.

It would be even more better if we would just stop picking fucking sides and stop backing dictators, ever, for any reason.
posted by empath at 6:46 PM on September 7, 2012 [1 favorite]


.
posted by knoyers at 7:21 PM on September 7, 2012


The US didn't destabilize Syria, Syria already is and clearly will for some time be destabilized, and I doubt that the violent survival of the Assad regime would keep away al Qaeda bogeymen. Even though there will be a heavy price, Assad is enough of a monster that he needs to go.
posted by knoyers at 7:27 PM on September 7, 2012 [1 favorite]


It would be even more better if we would just stop picking fucking sides and stop backing dictators, ever, for any reason.

Amen to that. And when you mention this to some Americans they look at you all funny. All of South America has come under this special treatment. And many more places, of course.
posted by nostrada at 7:29 PM on September 7, 2012 [1 favorite]


I'm lost. The tank was where? They couldn't hear it? See it?
posted by Mr. Yuck at 7:30 PM on September 7, 2012


Probably a T-62 or T-72; those things can fire their main gun from literally kilometers away and still hit an aiming point. In a built up urban environment that's less the case due to line of sight, but it could easily come out from behind a wall some good way up the road and be firing seconds later, especially if they're drawn up into defensive positions and the tank crew know roughly where the opposition are.

But christ. Three men alive, then not alive, in the time it takes for a camera shutter click.

I don't want to go into the mess of the Syrian revolution, the many different groups struggling for control, or what could, or should have been done about Assad sooner.

The simple, terrifying horror of war, captured for our voyeurism. I'm torn between admiration for the act of capturing this with such clarity, and visceral horror at what it shows. Torn between thinking it's an important thing for us to see, safe in our middle class lives. And wishing I'd never seen it at all.
posted by ArkhanJG at 8:00 PM on September 7, 2012


I bet drone strikes look very similar.
posted by Malor at 8:07 PM on September 7, 2012 [3 favorites]


Holy shit.
posted by mr_roboto at 8:25 PM on September 7, 2012


It would be even more better if we would just stop picking fucking sides and stop backing dictators, ever, for any reason.

Amen to that. And when you mention this to some Americans they look at you all funny.


For truth.

Some regimes need to end. Some dictators should be tried, and no doubt their obvious guilt would necessitate their being put to death. I have no problem with this.

I don't believe in murder. Especially state sanctioned murder. And yet late at night, after I look at photos like this I could almost wish there were a cabal of decent men who, with great reluctance, would act as assassins for the murderers of thousands who will continue their terror. It's hard to believe that would be any less ethical than sending American troops into countries to kill and be killed along with the massacre of innocent civilians (yeah, the children.)



Anybody else note that real destruction and death is a lot messier than movie apocalypse?
posted by BlueHorse at 8:32 PM on September 7, 2012


And yet late at night, after I look at photos like this I could almost wish there were a cabal of decent men who, with great reluctance, would act as assassins for the murderers of thousands who will continue their terror.

Thankfully, real life isn't a comic book. See also: Watchmen etc.
posted by Justinian at 9:07 PM on September 7, 2012 [2 favorites]


What's sticking with me is that this split-second pure distillation of war and death that was captured is something that's happened countless times in all of our names, whether the cause was good or bad, whether "our side" was attacking or defending, whether we wanted it to be in our names or not. Versions of that precise moment of completely impersonal and unpredictable carnage, where lives are just switched off like a light, have bought some of the privilege we all enjoy. Laughing with friends one second, gone the next. And this is one of the mercifully quick versions of "that moment"! Far worse has been done and all of us have profited, whether we wanted it or not. It's the one thing we all carry in our invisible knapsacks. You don't have to wring your hands over it if you aren't inclined, but it is something to really acknowledge.

I dunno, I mean, obviously this is something we've all thought of before, but these photos bring it to the forefront because they show the moment. It cuts through stronger than gruesome photos of the aftermath, than statistics, than the wounded, because there's no way to think around it even a little. There and gone, just like that, because it was someone's job to do so.
posted by jason_steakums at 9:46 PM on September 7, 2012 [1 favorite]


"Even though there will be a heavy price, Assad is enough of a monster that he needs to go."

In other words, he's tough, brutal, and able to keep the radical Islamists at bay?

They said the same thing about Saddam, btw... which was why there was no Al Qaeda in Iraq prior to the US invasion of that country.

On a purely practical level... a pox on both their houses. Hate him or hate him more, but Assad at least tends to bring about stability in a region that seriously needs more of it.

In order to depose him, it will take a more powerful, motivated, organized, and fanatical level of opposition, perhaps in the form of religious fundamentalism, or perhaps in the form of a powerful, charismatic leader.

Are you really sure you want this? (Y/N)
posted by markkraft at 10:16 PM on September 7, 2012


I haven't *not* wanted to see a military victor so badly since the Iraqis invaded Iran.

This is one of those conflicts where you hope that both sides lose.
posted by markkraft at 10:22 PM on September 7, 2012


Bloody.

Hell.

And my deepest gratitude to every journalist like Tracey Shelton who is willing and somehow still able to this kind of essential work.
posted by argonauta at 12:32 AM on September 8, 2012


Is there any chance that, instead of a tank fire, the kid who picked up the RPG mistakenly fired it into the building next to him, killing himself and his two companions?
posted by GregorWill at 12:40 AM on September 8, 2012


In the third picture the rocket is still on the launcher. I'm wondering about the red thing that the guy readying the machine gun is pointing it at.
posted by Mr. Yuck at 2:15 AM on September 8, 2012


I'm wondering about the red thing that the guy readying the machine gun is pointing it at.

Looks like the breech is open, even during the photo labelled "tank blast", so i don't think he actually shot something on the ground that exploded...
posted by dubold at 2:50 AM on September 8, 2012


oops, looks like that might be the feed tray cover.
posted by dubold at 2:55 AM on September 8, 2012


But christ. Three men alive, then not alive, in the time it takes for a camera shutter click.

"In the midst of life, we are in death."
posted by Slithy_Tove at 6:25 AM on September 8, 2012


And yet late at night, after I look at photos like this I could almost wish there were a cabal of decent men who, with great reluctance, would act as assassins for the murderers of thousands who will continue their terror.


Lucky for you, the US government shares your sentiment:
Somewhere on this planet an American commando is carrying out a mission. Now, say that 70 times and you’re done... for the day. Without the knowledge of the American public, a secret force within the U.S. military is undertaking operations in a majority of the world’s countries. This new Pentagon power elite is waging a global war whose size and scope has never been revealed, until now.

After a U.S. Navy SEAL put a bullet in Osama bin Laden’s chest and another in his head, one of the most secretive black-ops units in the American military suddenly found its mission in the public spotlight. It was atypical. While it’s well known that U.S. Special Operations forces are deployed in the war zones of Afghanistan and Iraq, and it’s increasingly apparent that such units operate in murkier conflict zones like Yemen and Somalia, the full extent of their worldwide war has remained deeply in the shadows.

Last year, Karen DeYoung and Greg Jaffe of the Washington Post reported that U.S. Special Operations forces were deployed in 75 countries, up from 60 at the end of the Bush presidency. By the end of this year, U.S. Special Operations Command spokesman Colonel Tim Nye told me, that number will likely reach 120. “We do a lot of traveling -- a lot more than Afghanistan or Iraq,” he said recently. This global presence -- in about 60% of the world’s nations and far larger than previously acknowledged -- provides striking new evidence of a rising clandestine Pentagon power elite waging a secret war in all corners of the world.
posted by ennui.bz at 9:01 AM on September 8, 2012 [2 favorites]


Syria shows weaknesses of both candidates
posted by homunculus at 10:04 AM on September 8, 2012


Another neocon 'success story'
posted by homunculus at 1:12 PM on September 8, 2012


Heart-rending choices in Syrian warzone hospital
posted by homunculus at 1:19 PM on September 8, 2012


Once you make the decision to destabilize a government in a country like Syria, the consequences are impossible to imagine. You'd think we would learn after Iraq, Iran, and Afghanistan, but it appears that our goal in the Middle East is to see how many stable governments we can eviscerate and still claim that we have no idea why the entire region wants to see us drown in the blood we have spilled there.

Because, as Stephen Walt notes in the article linked by homunculus, we're gambling that whatever happens, the result will tilt more in the U.S.'s favor than the current situation.

We play with forces we cannot control and barely understand.
posted by kgasmart at 1:54 PM on September 8, 2012



Once you make the decision to destabilize a government in a country like Syria, the consequences are impossible to imagine.


And who exactly made that decision?

Julian Assange?

This is Syria we're talking about. The nation that has been united and controlled by absolutely nothing besides hate and fear, for the simple reason that there has never been been any reason why any resident of the western half of the Fertile Crescent would adopt the label "Western Half of the Fertile Crescent" for a national identity. Every single person with the misfortune of being born there has ties across the border to people in a neighboring nation, and no reason to let the label "Syrian" take precedence over those ties. Even the national ideology that defines the Syrian state, Ba'athism, comes with a map larger than just Syria, encompassing also Lebanon, Iraq, and the northern half of Israel.

And since the western Ba'athists could never have taken over the eastern half of the Ba'athist map, namely the Iraqi Ba'athist, they had even more of a motive to run a totalitarian state (motto: "we do Baathism right."), and feed the population a never ending diet of hate and fear. The place was going to blow. Nobody really wanted this to happen on his watch, everybody wanted "peace in our time," and well, we right now are the ones who get to see Syria implode, and have to figure out how to sway events over there towards a better direction.
posted by ocschwar at 4:33 PM on September 8, 2012


Oschwar, before we get into it, I want to confirm that you're capable of thinking rationally about US foreign policy in the middle east. Since it has been confirmed that the Bush Administration was aware Iraq had no WMDs and decided to invade anyway, would you support the statement that America was fully responsible for the destabilization of Iraq, and all of the violence and death that followed?
posted by deanklear at 6:31 PM on September 8, 2012


MetaFilter: before we get into it, I want to confirm that you're capable of thinking rationally.
posted by homunculus at 7:02 PM on September 8, 2012



Oschwar, before we get into it, I want to confirm that you're capable of thinking rationally about US foreign policy in the middle east


Well, due diligence is important, of course, but before you give me a psychiatric evaluation, can we confirm that you comprehend what I just said? That is, that Syria was going to implode one day or another because there was nothing there to keep it together?
posted by ocschwar at 7:34 PM on September 8, 2012


Jihadist join the fight in Aleppo, according to co-founder of Doctors Without Borders
posted by empath at 6:25 AM on September 9, 2012


Some regimes need to end. Some dictators should be tried, and no doubt their obvious guilt would necessitate their being put to death. I have no problem with this.

I don't believe in murder. Especially state sanctioned murder. And yet late at night, after I look at photos like this I could almost wish there were a cabal of decent men who, with great reluctance, would act as assassins for the murderers of thousands who will continue their terror. It's hard to believe that would be any less ethical than sending American troops into countries to kill and be killed along with the massacre of innocent civilians (yeah, the children.)


I don't think killing Cheney would have solved anything.
posted by empath at 6:27 AM on September 9, 2012


Speaking of Iraq: Iraq insurgents leave dozens dead with wave of attacks. At least 44 people killed and 240 wounded after security forces and police recruits targeted in shootings and bombings
posted by homunculus at 1:07 AM on September 10, 2012


'At least 100 casualties' as Syrian warplanes strike Aleppo
posted by homunculus at 1:09 AM on September 10, 2012


Why is this sort of work is described as "essential?"

It is, without a doubt, a joltingly clear depiction of the horror and violence of war.

However, It doesn't tell you who is right or wrong. Its tempting to boil with anger towards the regime, the men in the picture would likely have inflicted the same fate on the tank driver.
posted by cacofonie at 7:30 AM on September 10, 2012


That is, that Syria was going to implode one day or another because there was nothing there to keep it together?

You could make the same argument about the United States in 1860. The question is, if Britain had decided to destabilize the United States to reassert its waning power in the region, would you support their actions as moral or immoral?
posted by deanklear at 1:41 PM on September 10, 2012


Why is this sort of work is described as "essential?"

Well, I called it that because I think that first-hand accounts from places like Aleppo (or Sudan or New Orleans or Gujarat or Moscow or Guernica or Saigon or Tibet or Selma or Tuvalu or Utoya or Bamiyan, etc.) is invaluable. I don't presume at all that "essential" means that one story tells who is right or wrong, or that the forces behind (or implications of) what happens in one place are simple.

I just believe that a world without freedom of the press--or the individual journalists who are willing to enforce their right to it--would be much more dangerous than one with them, insufficient though it may seem. That's all.
posted by argonauta at 6:14 PM on September 10, 2012


Here's the video the pictures were taken from, and some background of the three men who were killed.
posted by stbalbach at 11:45 AM on September 14, 2012


Medieval Aleppo souks destroyed by fire as battle rages in Syria: Syrian activists say residents are struggling to control blaze in labyrinthine markets which were once a tourist attraction
posted by homunculus at 10:27 AM on September 29, 2012


The Dead Pile up in Syria as Historic Aleppo Market Burns
posted by homunculus at 11:58 AM on September 30, 2012


Documents Show Russia Ordered Syria Shoot Down Turkish Jet
posted by homunculus at 12:00 PM on September 30, 2012


Strange "jihadi" video of Austin Tice, U.S. reporter missing in Syria
posted by homunculus at 1:55 PM on October 1, 2012


Turkish military strikes targets inside Syria: Retaliation follows mortar attack from Syrian territory that killed family of five in border town of Akcakale.
posted by homunculus at 5:01 PM on October 3, 2012


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